All Ears

If you’re reading this, it means (I hope) that you’re not in a car driving north to Austin. Why not? What, do you hate live music?

Then again, maybe you are driving north, and one of your music-loving buddies is in the passenger seat, reading these words aloud as you make your last-minute South by Southwest plans. If that’s the case, please accept these drop-in-the-ocean observations about the infinite array of options before you.

You know, of course, that Iggy is back with The Stooges. That rocks, one must assume. But if you don’t want to fight the Stubb’s crowd at that hour on Saturday, might I suggest Cursive at the Beauty Bar or Balkan Beat Box at Habana Calle 6? Then again, maybe you’ll decide to quit early on Saturday, having endured the threat of asphyxiation after squeezing in to the 8 p.m. set by the Buzzcocks.

But that’s the tail end of the fest, and you already have an official showcase schedule anyway. Just out of curiosity: Have you ever played one of my favorite SXSW games, spending a night sampling only bands from countries you can’t afford to visit? Finnish groups on Wednesday at Uncle Flirty’s Loft, Aussies and New Zealanders that night at Red 7, Japanese at Elysium on Friday? The possibility of disappointment is high in this game, but the omigod discoveries can be worth it — and the crowds are usually sparse enough that you can cover a big chunk of the globe by hopping from club to club.

As usual, the already-underway Film fest has a healthy dose of music offerings. I’ve seen Monterey Pop and the Chet Baker bio Let’s Get Lost already, so won’t wait in line for those, but am extremely excited about docs about two of pop music’s biggest enigmas, Nick Drake: A Skin Too Few (Saturday) and Scott Walker: 30th Century Man (Thursday).

In other cross-disciplinary news, genius producer Brian Eno is also a longtime pioneer of video and installation art, and the Austin Museum of Art (823 Congress Ave.) is getting in the SXSpirit by hosting his 77 Million Paintings project through Sunday. No, Eno’s not that prolific; that impressive 77 million is the approximate number of possible variations available when a specially designed piece of software sorts through Eno’s hand-made slides and superimposes them on each other for random durations. Eno calls it a “generative light composition”; I say I wish AMOA stayed open later this week.

Then again, AMOA’s late-afternoon hours might make a good chill-out transition to official showcases from the sunshine-and-beer daze of the 77 million or so daytime sets being played within the Austin city limits. As in years past, you don’t need stinking badges — or even wristbands — to get your fill of live music this week, though you do need to keep your ear to the ground for party announcements.

One of the best collections I know of those is online at www.Showlistaustin.
com. While hour-to-hour schedules can be notoriously flaky — do yourself a favor and don't count on them when it comes to must-see bands — Showlist is diligent about letting you know which parties require invites, RSVPs, or various other secret handshakes.

Scrolling through that list, some names pop up so many times that you suspect a) party organizers are a little optimistic about which bands will show, b) this season's “it” bands are insanely dedicated to maximizing the fest's buzz-building potential, or c) one or two artists have decided to invest in cyborg clones of themselves so they can be in two places at once. I'm inclined to go with (b) in most cases, but having witnessed the quirks of Robyn Hitchcock firsthand I wouldn't rule out (c). While working the day parties to investigate Hitchcock's possible cyberneticism, I intend to catch one of the dozens of sets by blogger-beloved Bishop Allen and Swedish popsters Peter Björn and John. See you in the crowd, I hope.